Women Underground – Lauren Tate (Hands Off Gretel) - Jenny Tingle

There are so many awesome and inspirational women in the UK's music and arts scene. Women Underground is a series of articles showcasing female creatives. The purpose of these interviews isn't to complain, to undermine men or to cast women in the roles of victims of an unfair society - it's to highlight the sheer volume of amazing music, art and creative contributions to the world population made by women right here, right now.

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Hands Off Gretel are rapidly rising amongst the Riot Grrl/Grunge/Alternative Rock Scene with good reason! HOG music is highly contagious and definitely best enjoyed live. Heavier songs like Oh Shit! Are made for headbanging ‘til you’re dizzy!

Lauren Tate is a formidable singer and musician, whose gritty vocals interlaced with howls remind me of Kat Bjelland from Babes In Toyland. Talented drummer Sam Hobbins and guitarist Sean Bon provide the music’s grungy, insolent backbone.

I saw Hands Off Gretel live when they played Audio in Glasgow. Contrary to their intimidating stage presence, HOG are really friendly people, making sure to meet everyone come to see them after their headline set, some fans having travelled to Scottish tour dates from places as far as the south of England. There’s nothing on par with loud music in small intimate venues. I reckon these guys will go far, so make sure you see them live before they’re playing concert halls!

Hi Lauren! Hands Off Gretel are just back from Germany and straight back into touring the UK! What were the highlights of the tour? Have you managed to recover since you got home?

Hey! Oh my, the German fans! Like… they are so wild, they just throw themselves into mosh pits 5 songs in and look at me with these eyes of excitement, which then spurs me on to dancing super fast and smashing Sams kit up every night. They stole my socks, they stole my hair, they wanted all of me it was amazing! It just got more and more intense every night, Frankfurt being my favourite because the place was rammed and everyone was yelling the songs back at me and throwing their hands in the air for more and more and more.

Your creative influence on the band doesn’t end with writing songs- you also create amazing artwork! Do you love visual art as much as music?

Yeah I like visual art. I like everything I can hold and look at and then usually scrap and make more of. When I paint pictures I hang them up in my room and I just love it when they are all just looking at me, my favourite part being the eyes because each of them has different emotions in the way I’ve painted their eyes.

A lot of your music has themes of feminism, mental health and bodily autonomy. How does this reflect in your most-recent album, “Burn The Beauty Queen”.

I don’t actively write feminist music, like I’m not writing ‘rebel girl’ Bikini Kill anthems I’m just singing about the way I feel as a girl in this world, as a human in this world even, regardless of my gender this album is just about how damn frustrated I am in the world. There’s all these ideas of how girls and boys should be and it flattens me and makes me wanna be everything I’m not suppose to if you get me? Burn The Beauty queen was about taking the idea of what a girl should look like and saying like “Screw you I’m going to be everything that society tries to iron out of me”. I’m gonna scream, I’m going to kick my legs, I’m going to do everything I can to be heard and I know theres a lot of people that feel that way and I really wanna get them pumped to kick their legs too.

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How have your own life experiences influenced your music?

School and growing up influenced everything. I am that girl sat in class looking out of the window feeling frustrated, hating everything, being a loner, being misunderstood by the majority of penis faced people. I’m just her but I’m in a band now and I’m starting to care less about what people think about me because at the end of the day I really don’t want to be like them I want to be like myself. I have very few ‘girlfriends’ in the music scene. It’s always been this way since school, girls take one look at me and don’t like the way I present myself, like I’ve never suffered insecurity because I’m skinny? Does that sound stupid? It really does! But it’s true, I sometimes feel people look at me and assume because I dress like some kind of Bratz doll in my fluffy pink coats and dolly shoes that I fancy myself and don’t know how if feels to be insecure and real like everyone else. That really hurts.

What do you love most about music?

The worlds I can escape into. For the duration of albums while I listen to them I kind of disappear, I don’t have to think about me or whatever I just float away and I like that feeling of being consumed willingly into someone else’s world.

As the frontwoman of a band with a rapidly-growing fanbase, what challenges have you had to overcome to get to where you are now?

A challenge for me is always following my heart. It’s hard because so many people tried in the past to sway me and make me change. People say “You shouldn’t sing like that, you should be more like this” and then they show me something really boring and my eyes roll away and it’s just me against the world some days and I just have to keep pushing my vision even if every once in a while people hate what I’m doing. I tried for so long also to have other female friends in the ‘industry’ and far too many times have I been stabbed in the back because girls get really jealous when other girls do well. It’s all a learning curve for me but eventually I reckon I’ll have what I want and I’ll waste less time with fakers.

You can completely command the attention of a crowd - is your wild-yet-vulnerable stage persona an alter ego of yourself?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Sometimes I’m pumped and I feel it, I mean it and everything is authentic. Other times I’m downing vodka and trying to summon an energy that I just can’t find and I spend the whole show pushing myself but feeling very empty inside because it’s not genuine. I have to play a character when I am down and the crazier the character becomes the harder she is to live up to each time.

The term Riot Grrrl, has a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask. What does the word mean to you?

Riot Grrrl in the 90s inspired me so much, I read so much about it, I just loved the concept of girls taking the stage as their own in a scene that was at the time a testosterone fuelled male dominated punk scene with really no place for girls unless they wanted some guys boot in their mouth. I really feel riot grrl is an internal energy every girl has got to have when they are up there on the stage. They’ve got to feel strong and powerful knowing that when they have the mic, they have the power. I’ve met so many men-hating femanazis that ruin it all for me but I just don’t associate myself with those kinds of women because I’m sick of feeling like a victim, or feeling I have to be the perfect feminist or the voice of a generation or something. I’m a strong feminist who will kick ass with or without my girl gang y’know. Riot grrrl has its place but I’m not sure about the all-female lineups anymore, I think women should be aiming for the main festivals, playing amongst the big boys and proving that there should be no divide in music. I really just don’t fit in anywhere when I think about it, high school never ends.

What advice would you give to other musicians just starting out?

Mean what you say, don’t release it until you are happy with it, have integrity and don’t be too sober or serious. Don’t be in a band with people you don’t even like, I have done this before and nothing is shitter than spending loads of time with people that make you gag.

What does the future hold for Hands Off Gretel?

We are recording a new album in January, I’ve already written all the songs and it’s going to be so much better than our first record I can just feel it. We will bring out lots more videos and I’m aiming for the big festivals, I’m gathering up all my energy right now ready to pounce.

Where can we see you live next?

We only have a few dates left this year which are these bad boys …
Fri 27th Oct - Whitby Goth Weekend - Whitby
Sat 28th Oct - The Garage w/ The Professionals. - London
Fri 24th Nov - Café Totem w/ Sleeptalking - Sheffield
Fri 23rd Dec - (XMAS SHOW) Old School House Venue - Barnsley

Thanks for your time!

Thank you Jenny!

Photo Credits; Helen Tate